Bonhomme Richard could bring huge tourism boost to Yorkshire coast

The Bonhomme Richard
The Bonhomme Richard

More details have been released of the shipwreck lying in sediment in Filey Bay which researchers say prove that it is the long-sought remains of the Bonhomme Richard that went down in flames in 1779.

The former French merchantman became America's first warship and was destroyed in a sea battle with the Navy frigate Serapis as Bonhomme's commander John Paul Jones tried to disrupt British supplies during the war of independence.

A meeting at the White Lodge Hotel, Filey, heard that the discovery could bring a tourism bonanza for Filey.

"We would like to exploit it for the benefit of Filey," said Bruce Blackburn, chief executive of Harrogate-based Merlin Burrows, an international company that undertakes maritime investigations.

James Hodgson, of the White Lodge Hotel, said: "This is very exciting for Filey, and my wife Kim, who is American, says that every young student in the US is taught about the deeds of John Paul Jones.

"It is amazing that his historic words, 'Surrender? I have not yet begun to fight' were uttered out there in Filey Bay."

The meeting revealed more detail from 22 dives to the wreck and enhanced with the aid of satellite technology.

Tim Akers, head of research at Merlin Burrows, said a wooden figurehead of a lion and shield that adorned the bow of the 18th century warship the Bonhomme Richard have been found on the seabed.

He said that other parts of the ship have also been found, including a carving of a shepherdess from the stern and a seahorse artefact that links the vessel to its previous days as a cargo ship in the Orient.

"The figurehead we have identified is a rampant lion with shield. The ear and nose bear marks of cannonballs which hit the ship before it sunk.

"The seahorse image connects the vessel to its French colonial days."

He added that the shepherdess from the stern indicates the carving has burned legs, consistent with explosions that sunk the Bonhomme.

"There is also the capstan with hemp wrapped round it."

The divers are said to have discovered the anchors and sections of the mast, both in keeping with French Admiralty drawings.

The wreck, which is spread over a large area, is owned by the US.

Mr Akers said: "The site itself is not easy to research. The debris is covered in sediment and it is very cold, but the preservation is very good."

The find has been registered by Merlin Burrows with the Receiver of Wreck, who administers maritime wrecks and salvage.

Historic England has yet to confirm that the wreck is that of the Bonhomme Richard.

The ship formerly Le Duc de Duras, was given by the French to the Americans. Although John Paul Jones, lost his ship he won the battle off Flamborough Head in Filey Bay and took over the British frigate Serapis with great loss of life on both sides.